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New hope for dry eye disease?

A new device could lead to improved outcomes for people with dry eye disease, a condition with a significant footprint in India.

Dry eye disease is a condition which, in its severest form, can lead to blindness. It is typically the result of dysfunctional tear-producing glands, which leaves no lubricated or moist layer covering the eyes. Without treatment, microorganisms and debris are not removed from the eye which is what can eventually lead to the loss of sight. 

Risk factors for dry eye disease include certain professions (such as those related to computers), exposure to pollution, and age. Though treatable with eye drops that can remove its symptoms, the disease is nonetheless concerning given the potential for lifelong impairment. India is home to 20.5 percent of the world’s blind population and so to mitigate the risk of developing any condition which carries the risk for blindness is welcome. 

To this end, a non-invasive imaging system has been developed by researchers with the potential for improved diagnosis. It illuminates the eye using a halogen light to measure light reflection and then assess the tear film inner layers, particularly the aqueous sublayers, by reconstructing the structures found at the front of the eye. The measurements are completed in forty seconds. 

“For the diagnosis of dry eye disease, there have been few significant advancements over recent years,” explained Dr Yoel Arieli, lead author of the research published in the journal Applied Optics. “We collaborated with academic and practicing physicians who diagnose and treat dry eye to develop an instrument that can be integrated into a clinical setting while very accurately imaging the tear film inner layers, which can be used to diagnose dry eye and understand its cause.” 

“Our Tear Film Imager is the first device that can be used in the ophthalmology or optometry setting to image the tear film and distinguish its inner layers with nanometer resolution,” said Dr Arieli.“The broadband illumination source and fine details available from spectral analysis provide nanometer-level insight into subtle changes in each tear film layer and sublayer.” 

Arieli said that the research indicated that the measurements generated with the device correlated with those produced by other diagnostic devices for dry eye disease which are partially invasive. “The device worked impressively and presents no risk because it is non-invasive and uses a simple light source,” he added. 

Fifty percent of India’s urban population could be affected by dry eye disease by 2030. Already, dry eye disease currently affects or has affected 45 percent of the urban population in India. As such, given the high prevalence of the disease, any diagnostic boon is a welcome development. 

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